MERIDEN — What can Southington do for an encore?
With two-time Record-Journal Player of the Year Abby Sowa off to East Carolina University, will fellow All-New England player Gabby Tirado of Cheshire inherit the mantle from the former Blue Knights’ star?
Will Lyman Hall gain ground on Sheehan in Wallingford?
Will Maloney climb in Meriden? Can Platt make a successful re-entry to varsity? Can Wilcox Tech repeat as a conference champ?
There’s no lack of questions as the 2021 girls soccer season gets under way. Answers start to emerge Thursday, when the regular season kicks off.
After last year’s delayed and abbreviated season, 2021 marks a full return. The regular season is back at 16 games. The state tournaments are back on the calendar in November.
Here’s how the area squads look heading in.Meriden
The lights will be on at Falcon Field Thursday night as Maloney hosts Berlin in the season opener.
The Spartans are coming off a 2-8-1 campaign. They graduated All-Conference/All-RJ goaltender Abby Lespier, a four-year stalwart in net, but bring back All-Conference and All-RJ forwards in senior Mackenzie McCormack and junior Molly Marcuss.
Maloney also returns experience down the middle of the field in center-mid Michaela Wrinn and center-defender Lily Marcuss, both seniors.
“We have a good core of the starters from last year’s team returning,” noted coach Eoin McClure. “Our forwards Mackenzie and Molly Marcuss are working well together. Our midfielders and defense has grown a lot and we should be very competitive in every game.
“Our goal to to keep our girls healthy and to make the state tournament, where anything is possible.”
The Central Connectiut Conference schedule strives to be more equitable this season, expanding beyond division boundaries. The Spartans play 15 different opponents. The lone repeat is Platt. The rivals meet on the West Side on Oct. 5 and at Falcon Field on Nov. 2.
Platt, which opens Friday at home against Plainville, is back on the varsity level after dropping to JV in 2020 to regenerate low roster numbers. Coach Dan Gutierrez has projected a 2021 roster of about 25 players.
Wilcox Tech, meanwhile, is back in the Connecticut Technical Conference after shifting to the Capital Region Athletic League last year for the sake of limiting travel during the pandemic.
It was a rewarding turn for the Indians. They went 7-2-2 and won the CRAL crown.
Wilcox lost a ton of seniors from that squad, from Melissa Hernandez in net to Melani Medina and Alexa Sanchez on defense to Luisa Avila and Mylin Bennett in the midfield to Morgan Herzman up top.
And yet the Tribe brings back a number of key players, led by the senior quartet of forward Esmerelda Aguirre, midfielder/forward Natalie Strout, midfielder/defender Xochilt Rangel and defender Perla Diaz.
Forwards Katherine Archivala and Angela Zandri, both sophomores, are coming off fantastic freshman debuts. So is sophomore defender Valeria Mendoza.
Add it up, and Wilcox is gunning to play in the CTC conference and Class M state tournaments.
“Win, lose or draw, the team will compete with class, respect for all and effort,” pledged coach Chuck Ubaldi, whose team opens at home Friday against Prince Tech. “We have lost a good deal of senior leadership, but our current seniors and sophmores will contribute energy, leadership and determination this fall.
“They are great teamates,” Ubaldi added. “I learn each day while coaching them.”Wallingford
The balance of power in this town tilts heavily toward the west. Sheehan went 6-2-2 last year, Lyman Hall 1-10-0.
The Trojans do have some strong players returning, though, starting with senior midfielder Shianna Reeves and junior defender Emma Jacobs. Both were All-RJ picks.
Reeves and Jacobs will captain this year’s squad alongside senior defender Sydney Raffles.
Promising newcomers Roisin Turbett, a sophomore, and Madelyn Buccheri, a freshman, move into the mix.
“We think we can improve immensely over last year,” said Lyman Hall coach Tony Crane. “We have a starting 11 that looks pretty good.”
The Trojans will unveil that starting 11 on Friday night in North Haven. Sheehan, meanwhile, gets rolling Saturday morning in Cromwell.
The Titans bring back a solid core, though they did graduate some top-tier seniors. Goalie Beth Arnold (Iona), midfielder Lexi Carim (WPI) and forward Sam Barone (University of New England) are all playing college soccer.
The returning group is led by the senior captains, center-back Alicea Piscitelli and defender Elaina D’Angelo. Piscitelli, a fourth-year varsity player, was All-SCC and All-RJ a year ago.
All-RJ midfielder Amy Casorla is also back. Fellow senior Ashley Bunnell joins Piscitelli and D’Angelo in the backfield.
Those are the seniors. The Titans also return six juniors, starting with midfielders Katelyn Casorla and Olivia Platt. The other four are midfielders who either shift to forward (Dylan Smith) or defense (Sydney Cuticelli, Lyndsey Bunnell and Casey Deans).
Yet another combination player is returning sophomore forward/midfielder Mia D’Angelo.
Moving into the varsity mix are sophomore midfielders Olivia Cassesse and Talia Crispino. Sophomore Trinity LaValley, who saw varsity time last year, becomes the full-time goalie.
The rookies to watch are freshmen midfielders Stacey Casorla and Kate Frioni.
“This year’s team has a nice combination of players from each of the classes that have skills and past playing experience, and from what we have seen so far in their performance during the preseason each player is willing to work hard and wants to improve each week,” remarked coach Rob Huelsman.
“We are also thrilled to be playing a full game schedule this season with some strong team goals to get back to the SCC conference tournament and then into the state tournament.”
Lyman Hall and Sheehan meet on Oct. 6 at Sheehan and Oct. 27 at Lyman Hall.Cheshire
Four college rosters this fall feature freshmen who were playing a year ago in Ramland: Ellie Pergolotti (West Virginia Wesleyan), Seymone Rosenberg (Bard), Dani Ellis (Wellesley) and Julia Hendrick (Western New England).
That said, the majority of last year’s 12-4 Cheshire team is returning, led by All-New England selection Gabby Tirado. A forward, Tirado is still only a junior. She’ll be joined up top by classmate Anna Hurlbut.
Cheshire is senior-solid in the midfield with Olivia Jones, Izzy Dzuira and the Geloso twins, Ariana and Briana. Junior Helene Lopez also returns to the midfield, while classmate Ella Crerar is back on defense.
The rising players to watch are junior Haley Shaw and freshman Ava Sink in the midfield, junior Maddie Shaw and sophomore Stella Tessier on defense.
The Rams will be tested right out of the gate. They host Guilford on Thursday night.
Coach Kylee McIntosh knows what she wants from her team: “Leave every game knowing we gave our all for the whole 80 minutes.”Southington
The upside of 2020 for the Lady Knights was going 14-0 and winning CCC Region B. The downside was wondering how much more they could have won had the state tournament been staged.
With the graduation of a massive senior class that featured five college players — Abby Sowa (East Carolina), Allison Carr (Pace), Shannon Litchfield (Albany), Emily Eigo (New Haven) and Morgan Hubert (Endicott) — we’ll never know.
And, yet, here come the Lady Knights once more, storming into Thursday’s opener at Conard with another deep senior class led by midfielder Maya Wroblewski and defender Chloe Bauman, the team captains along with junior standout Jessica Carr.
Wroblewski had 11 goals last year. Carr, who is returning from injury, had 10 in an All-State campaign.
In all, the senior class numbers 12. Among them are two goaltenders, Kaitlyn Asido and Lauren Humphrey, heirs apparent to Eigo.
Senior forward Nina Muir is back after seeing extended play last year. Likewise senior Abby Flanigan and junior Riley Wolf, both in the midfield.
The sophomore class is sound with forward Julia Rusiecki and defenders Riley Prozzo and Sofia Scalise. The incoming freshmen are paced by midfielders Claire O’Neil and Taylor Walwyn.
And, just in case this cast wasn’t deep enough, Southington has welcomed exchange student Alice Palombieri of Italy, a midfielder who played for AC Roma’s premier program.
The 2021 goals, therefore, are clear for Southington coach Mike Linehan: “Maintain high standards of play and compete for a CCC conference and state championship.”